How a Brit imagines Thanksgiving
Like Christmas but worse
The joy of having two days off work is tarnished by having to drive for seventeen hours to your parents’ house. They live in the same state as you but it’s just that America is sooo big, much like the turkey that your ‘mom’ has been banging on about for ages.
(She had to make a special order in Walmart in SEPTEMBER.)
You’ve extracted promises from your partner that they’ll behave appropriately and not react to any racism or misogyny expressed by your grandparents.
‘They’re a different generation,’ you explain. ‘A more bigoted one.’
Because of this, it’s probably best not to discuss any of the Hollywood/DC sex scandals that have been in the news. Granddad thinks Fox news has got too liberal in the last few years.
Pop’s got a young whipper-snapper he works with in the sawmill to show him how Spotify works. Consequently, as you’re welcomed into your parents’ living space, Bruce Springsteen blasts from the amplifier that Pop has someone managed to connect to Mom’s iPhone 4. He’s wearing his best shirt and Mom has smoothed down what remains of his hair.
There are five litre bottles of every soft drink in the world lined up on the table because Mom doesn’t want people drinking alcohol too early, not forgetting the incident with Uncle Kevin in ’11. You pour your partner a Diet Dr Pepper and she talks to your mom about the Native American decorations that hang around the house and were bought in the closing down sale from the town’s ‘hippy’ store.
‘It’s important,’ says your partner, ‘to remember the real Americans.’
‘Real Americans?’ guffaws Pops. ‘Are we talking ZZ Top?
He cranks up the amplifier and helps himself to another glass of Mountain Dew.
You excused yourself early that night, the family (Mom, Pop, your partner and you) mesmerised by the 64 inch flatscreen that was bought from a stranger Pop met in the bar and who’d just happened to be passing. The colours were all off and made all The Big Bang theory look psychedelic, but you said nothing because of the upset the observation would cause. And also it was the closest your parents will have ever come to a drugs experience.
Morning means a huge breakfast — more food than you’ve eaten in the past week. Your partner helps herself to only six rashers of bacon as Mom spoons egg, hash browns, sausages, beans, mushrooms and toast onto her plate, creating a fried mountain of protein.
‘I need to save myself for the turkey!’ your partner says but Mom just laughs.
‘Speaking of turkey,’ says Pops, ‘You ready for this morning’s shooting?’
Your partner, lips smeared in ketchup, looks to you in horror.
‘I guess,’ you say.
You try asking your father about his health as he holds a shotgun to his shoulder and shoots at a field of tall grass. You can’t judge the specific animal he’s aiming for, but that’s fine because it might mean him less likely to kill.
Jessie, an arthritic Labrador, pants at your legs. Your scratch her head. The motion summons a stink of old dog. She’s the only female here because ‘shooting ain’t for girls.’
Pop stonewalls your questions and, instead, points to a flock of geese flying over in V formation.
‘Why, what do you know!’ he says. ‘Take aim, son!’
You hold your shotgun up. You point its barrel purposefully off. But you’ve never been good with guns. A huge explosion that splits your ears and a goose squawks and plummets.
‘Fetch, Jessie,’ says Pop. The dog limps slowly forwards. ‘Good shooting, kid. When are you going to get married, by the way, your mother is anxious.’
Dinner begins with your father carving the turkey, which is the size of a small car, and your grandfather insisting you try some of his home-brew. Although it instantly summons vomit to your mouth, you smile and tell him how pleasant it is. He offers you more but you say you’d rather stick to the Coors Light that Pop has bought in bulk.
Although you’re eating in the dinning room, a space only ever used during Thanksgiving or Christmas, the TV blares from the living room — it’s the all-day build-up to the big game: two football teams based in cities many thousands of miles away are playing a mid-season fixture and your father wants no detail of punditry missed.
Your partner leaves the table five times during the three-hour meal, asking permission each time. Three of these absences, you think, were taken to vomit. The other two were when your father and grandfather began talking about Hilary Clinton and ‘if you thought things were bad under Trump, imagine the alternative.’
Your father asks if you still read the New York Times as your grandfather shakes his head. You don’t care, in twenty minutes they’ll both be asleep on the sofa.
‘I do,’ you say and your grandfather says the problem is that your generation never fought in a war.
‘The weather’s nice,’ you try but nobody engages.
You fight with your partner to help your mother and grandmother pack the plates into the dishwasher as your father, like he does every year, loudly regrets not buying a cigar. This leads into a discussion about Cuba, which you absent yourself from to go to the bathroom.
Your grandmother has yet to talk.
While you were gone, your partner left the kitchen to take a lie-down upstairs. Mom explains that she’s not feeling well, raising a single eyebrow that communicates a spectrum of wild speculation.
To avoid engaging, you return to the living room, but is both full of heat and the TV. As your father and grandfather sit sleeping on the couch, both somehow still managing to hold unspilt glasses of beer (your grandmother insists that no drink is taken from a can), you stare at the sports.
Eventually, you find the remote and change channel.
Pops is instantly awake and demanding to know what you’re doing. After two further hours of big match build-up and three helpings of Mom’s apple pie (you were eating for your partner too), you explain that what ever had stricken your better half has affected you too and you need to rest upstairs for a while.
‘It’s a seasonal illness,’ says your grandfather, suddenly awake. ‘Seems to knock you out this time every year.’
‘No funny business,’ laughs Pop, awake again, winking.
You leave before breakfast. The whole house is sleeping. Apart from you and your partner, who’s already in the car. You prop up a note in the kitchen, apologising for leaving early but explaining that there’s work pressures and you don’t want your parents to catch whatever sickness troubled you the night before and also it’s a long drive. You also leave a $50 dollar bill. You don’t tell your partner about this.
‘Are you mad with me?’ you ask as you start the seventeen hour return trip in your massive car with an automatic gearbox because Americans are scared of sticks.
‘No,’ is their response, ‘But how about we visit my parents next year?’
You don’t reply but turn on the radio.
Springsteen plays. You try to feel happy.